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A few weeks ago I wrote about one of my early jobs, interviewing men incarcerated in maximum security prisons. I loved interviewing, but it was only part of what I did at that job; there were lots of days of data analysis that bored me to tears. So I took a new job working as an interviewer on an evaluation of two drug treatment facilities. The Queens facility offered clients a year of residential treatment, after which they would continue living at the facility while getting vocational training at one of several schools in the city (Apex Technical School was popular, as was a driving academy nearby.). The Brooklyn facility had in- house vocational training in culinary arts, office assisting, and building maintenance; after 6 months of treatment, clients started attending classes in the trade of their choice.

The higher-ups wanted to know which treatment framework got better results: Which facility had clients who were more likely to stay clean, hold a job, and not be re-arrested (almost 90% of our clients were mandated to treatment as an alternative to incarceration)? A research team was brought in, including two professors (a sociologist and an anthropologist) and two field interviewers (that’s me). We would randomly assign clients to one of the two facilities, then interview them at intake, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months—regardless of whether they stayed in treatment or left. If they were gone, part of my job was tracking them down. I collected reams of contact information: phone numbers for mothers and girlfriends and sisters, the names of check cashing places and fast food restaurants and intersections where my respondents might be found.

I had my work cut out for me, I thought. I would go to work, do some interviews, and come up with some findings. It didn’t go that smoothly. Next week I’ll detail some of the heartbreaking and harrowing experiences that were my life for almost 2 years.